A Bike Ride and a Tramp

Goodbye summer. That’s how it feels this evening at 7.30 by the sun. It is dusk already. Our part of England is on the cusp between sun and rain. We’ve managed to avoid the rain but the sky is overcast. I’ve been intermittently listening   to the BBC commentary on the cricket Test Match between England and South Africa. I think that if I were sent to spend the rest of my life alone on a desert island I would take a large anthology of these commentaries.

It would take a lengthy essay to say why. I love the varying pace, the unpredictability of events in the game as it develops over five days, the drama, the reversals of fortune and the sense of its roots on village greens throughout the land. And I love the courtesy, wit and poetry which it engenders. And the elegance of much of the writing about it.

Goodbye Summer. I remember a winter, more than 30 years ago. It was 1978. My father had died in the previous July and on a frosty but bright day during the Christmas break I rode my bike over Mill Hill, in North London. This has the postal code of London NW7 but the peak of the hill is surrounded by fields. There are cattle too, and a lake. And there is a famous public (independent) school. And several religious foundations, for trainee priests, and for monks and for nuns.

What will happen next year?, I thought, in 1978. Worries about the future, never distant from my awareness, were intensified by my father’s death. Will we still be here, next year?, I asked myself, 33 years ago.

I rode past a convent. As I did so I experienced a strong sense of someone else’s presence. I thought of my father. Then I saw a man, I suppose you would call him a tramp, looking at me. He was sitting on a seat outside the convent’s entrance.

‘Frank!’, he called out as I cycled past.

I rode on. I regret that I did not stop. I was dumbfounded, I suppose. It was a strange experience. Frank was my father’s name. I wish now I had stopped and spoken to the man. I think he will have been known to the nuns and I’m pretty sure they will have kept an eye on him and looked out for him

As I look through old photographs today I realise  how much I looked like my father  at the time, and still do, though he died at an age much younger than I am now. I remembered that my father had a friend and colleague who was found out in some kind of fraudulent activity in their firm and who went to prison. I remember that before all that happened this man used to tell entertaining stories of the way the black market operated in post-war Italy,where he had served in the army.

I think that the old tramp had skipped a generation, that he was this man, and that he thought he had seen his old friend and colleague.

And it occurs to me, as I recall the anxieties which I took with me on that bike ride: anxieties about the future, how sad it is that such fears and worries stop us living here and now.

And I wish, again, that I had spoken to the old man, about my father.

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